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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Updated: May 24, 2:08 PM ET
Breaking down the Sun Belt

By Adam Rittenberg
Special to ESPN.com

Can Omar Haugabook lead Troy to a Sun Belt title? Will FIU turn around its losing ways? Can Todd Dodge spark North Texas? Will Louisiana-Monroe find the linebackers it needs? Take a look at what Sun Belt questions were answered this spring and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Arkansas State Indians
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Texas
Sept. 8 Memphis
Sept. 15 SMU
Sept. 22 at Tennessee
Oct. 6 at Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette
Oct. 20 at Middle Tennessee
Oct. 27 Troy
Nov. 3 Florida International
Nov. 10 at Florida Atlantic
Nov. 15 North Texas
Nov. 24 at Southern Mississippi


2006 overall record:
6-6
2006 conference record:
4-3

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Corey Leonard, RB Reggie Arnold, WR Kevin Jones, LT Matt Mandich, DT Prince Hickman, LB Koby McKinnon, SS Tyrell Johnson, FS Khayyam Burns, PK Josh Arauco, CB Darren Toney
Key losses
C Tanner Jenkins, RT Dale Maas, FB Oren O'Neal, DT Jamarrow James, LB Devrett Wade, LB Josh Williams
Top newcomer: OT Paul Henry Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Reggie Arnold* (1,109 yds)
Passing: Corey Leonard* (1,321 yds)
Receiving: Kevin Jones* (355 yds)
Tackles: Tyrell Johnson* (63)
Sacks: Koby McKinnon* (3)
Interceptions: Khayyam Burns* (4)

Spring answers: 1. No concern under center: Junior Corey Leonard reconfirmed his place as Arkansas State's starting quarterback this spring after distancing himself from Travis Hewitt last year. Leonard led the offense to a 56-46 win over the defense in the spring game, completing 11 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns. He opened the game by leading the offense on a 70-yard scoring drive. "We're excited about Corey and what he has brought to our football team this spring and that he continues to improve," coach Steve Roberts told The Jonesboro Sun.
2. Insurance in the backfield: Star running back Reggie Arnold sat out spring practice with an ankle injury, allowing Cedric Wilkerson and Preston Brown to get most of the reps. Both Wilkerson and Brown performed well in the spring game, combining for 107 rushing yards and a touchdown. Wilkerson has proven he can step in and take carries, and Brown provides an extra backfield option. "Wilkerson and Preston Brown both showed out today," Roberts told The Sun. "Both of them had some big-time runs and I thought Preston had his best practice of the spring." Converted cornerback Jerime Henderson adds depth after rushing for 64 yards in the spring game.
3. Owens stabilizes middle: Josh Williams' dismissal from the team left a major void in the defensive midsection, but Ben Owens stepped up this spring. After serving as the team's backup middle linebacker behind Williams in 2006, Owens, a touted recruit, is taking a greater leadership position. He had 34 tackles, two sacks and an interception last year. "The middle linebacker is the heart and soul of the defense, and a lot of times it gets tough and rough," he told The Jonesboro Sun. "But you realize there is a lot you have to learn, a lot you have to get adjusted to. You get a feel for it and I feel like I'm finally getting a feel for it. I took my time, talked to those who have gone on, and I feel like I'm ready to take on the challenge."

Fall questions: 1. Fill in line gaps: Arkansas State must replace three starting offensive linemen, including first-team all-conference center Tanner Jenkins. Senior Heath Lockley ended spring practice as the No. 1 center, but preseason camp should feature plenty of competition aside from the left tackle spot, which Matt Mandich occupies. The line allowed six sacks in the spring scrimmage, a troublesome sign.
2. Arnold returns to mix: Reggie Arnold is the Indians' featured back, but how will his ankle respond after sitting out spring practice? Arnold hurt his right ankle midway through last season but still played in the final seven games, eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards. He was held out of contact drills this spring, but did some running and strengthening exercises. "It doesn't hurt," Arnold told The Jonesboro Sun. "There's no pain. It's just not as strong as it could be when I'm cutting on it. It's fine when I'm running straight ahead."
3. End game: Arkansas State's young defensive ends looked good in the spring game, as both Brian Flagg and Stanley Wakwe recorded sacks. The Indians need to see similar production this fall as they try to revive a position that was decimated by injuries in 2006. Flagg missed the entire season after hurting his knee in the final game of the 2005 campaign, and both Brandon Rollins and Alex Carrington suffered season-ending injuries last fall.

Florida Atlantic Owls
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Middle Tennessee State
Sept. 8 at Oklahoma State
Sept. 15 Minnesota
Sept. 22 at North Texas
Sept. 29 at Kentucky
Oct. 6 USF
Oct. 20 at Louisiana-Lafayette
Oct. 27 Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 10 Arkansas State
Nov. 17 at Florida
Nov. 24 at Florida International
Dec.1 at Troy



2006 overall record:
5-7
2006 conference record:
4-3

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 10, Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Rusty Smith, RB Charles Pierre, G Jarrid Smith, WR Frantz Simeon, WR Jason Harmon, DT Jervonte Jackson, S Kris Bartels, LB Cergile Sincere, DE Josh Pinnick
Key losses
RB Aaron Sanchez, LT Nello Faulk, CB Ricky Bethel, S Troy Pindell
Top newcomer: RB Xavier Stinson Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Charles Pierre* (756 yds)
Passing: Rusty Smith* (1,285 yds)
Receiving: Frantz Simeon* (590 yds)
Tackles: Cergile Sincere* (78)
Sacks: Josh Pinnick* (5)
Interceptions: Corey Small*, Taheem Acevedo* (4)

Spring answers: 1. Smith settles in: There are no more over-the-shoulder glances for Rusty Smith, who has locked down the starting quarterback job. Smith's job security resulted in an easier spring. He completed 19 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, though he did throw two interceptions, including one on the game's first drive. "It looks like the game has slowed down for him," wide receiver Frantz Simeon told the Palm Beach Post. "He's confident in there. Sometimes he can be pretty hyped up, and young, but when he settles down, he's on target with every throw he makes."
2. Joseph leads linebackers: If the spring game was any indication, the core of Florida Atlantic's defense is rock-solid. All three starting linebackers had interceptions in the game, with junior Frantz Joseph headlining the group. Joseph picked off a Rusty Smith pass after recovering a fumble in the Owls' previous scrimmage. Joseph finished third on the team in tackles (61) last season. "[Joseph] knows the defense now," linebacker Cergile Sincere told the Palm Beach Post. "He has picked up this game and is playing with confidence. It's obvious he's talented and now he's getting into his comfort zone."
3. Coming up Rose(s): After fighting injuries early in his career, Willie Rose looks ready to take over for do-it-all back Aaron Sanchez. Rose turned in a solid spring, performing well in several scrimmages. The fullback led the team with 96 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the spring game to go along with 17 rushing yards on three carries. Rose had eight carries for 31 yards last season.

Fall questions: 1. Running back roulette: No position will be spotlighted more this summer than running back, as four players contend for the top job. Last year's leading rusher Charles Pierre missed spring practice, opening the door for Di'Ivory Edgecomb and Willie Floyd. Edgecomb had 55 rushing yards on six carries in the spring game, and Floyd broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run. B.J. Manley also could be in the mix this fall.
2. Replacing Faulk on the line: Florida Atlantic didn't lose much on either side of the ball, but first-team all-conference left tackle Nello Faulk will be missed. The Owls are small up front and need sophomore Lavoris Williams or another tackle to emerge in camp. Williams had a strong spring and should be the starter, but FAU must build depth up front.
3. Find No. 2 receiver: Frantz Simeon will be Rusty Smith's featured target after catching 35 passes for 590 yards last season, but the Owls need more options out wide. Exciting freshman Lestar Jean will get a chance this summer after spraining his ankle midway through spring practice. Other possibilities include Cortez Gent and freshman Chris Bonner, who had a touchdown catch in the spring game.

Florida International Panthers
2007 Schedule
Aug. 31 at Middle Tennessee
Sept. 9 at South Florida
Sept. 16 Bowling Green
Sept. 23 at Maryland
Sept. 30 Arkansas State
Oct. 7 at North Texas
Oct. 14 at Miami
Oct. 28 at Alabama
Nov. 11 Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 18 Louisiana-Lafayette
Nov. 25 at Florida Atlantic
Dec. 2 Troy


2006 overall record:
0-12
2006 conference record:
0-7

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
WR Ashlyn Parker, LT Andy Leavine, FB John Ellis, CB Lionell Singleton, SS Jeremiah Weatherspoon, DT Roland Clarke
Key losses
QB Josh Padrick, WR Chandler Williams, TE Samuel Smith, LB Keyvonis Bouie, DE Antwan Barnes, LB Alexander Bostic, S Chris Smith
Top newcomer: OLB Ricky Booker Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: A'mod Ned* (445 yds)
Passing: Josh Padrick (2,014 yds)
Receiving: Chandler Williams (664 yds)
Tackles: Keyonvis Bouie (119)
Sacks: Alexander Bostic (8)
Interceptions: Lionell Singletown* (5)

Spring answers: 1. Whiddon catching on: After getting a taste of the action last season, sophomore wide receiver John Houston Whiddon could thrive in Florida International's revamped offense. Whiddon caught two touchdown passes from Wayne Younger in the spring game. As a freshman Whiddon had 11 receptions for 111 yards.
2. Attitude adjustment: After a season that was disappointing in so many ways, Florida International turned the page this spring under energetic new coach Mario Cristobal. Taking over a talented team that was short on direction or discipline, Cristobal overhauled the offense, installing a spread system that should maximize the team's weapons. "He's pushing us to the limit," fullback John Ellis told the Associated Press. "Our attitude has changed. Sun Belt champs, this year. It can happen."
3. Pass rush escalates: The Panthers lose Antwan Barnes, who led the team in tackles for loss (22.5) last season, but they received promising line play this spring. Jonas Murrell and Jonathan Betancourt each had three sacks and Jarvis Penerton had two in a March 31 scrimmage. "We were physical," Cristobal told The Miami Herald. "But we need to get more physical and it will always have to be that way."

Fall questions: 1. Finalize quarterback spot: Paul McCall is the front-runner entering camp, but watch out for redshirt freshman Wayne Younger, who sparkled in the spring game. Younger had two touchdown passes and 80 rushing yards as he led the offense to a 28-17 win. McCall completed 15 of 25 passes for 137 yards in the game, but he was overshadowed by Younger, who converted several fourth downs with his legs and arm.
2. The runaround: A'mod Ned led Florida International with 445 rushing yards last season, but he seemed to slip down the depth chart this spring in favor of junior Julian Reams. Reams had 25 rushing yards on seven carries in the spring game. Both players will compete for the top spot this summer.
3. Parker needs a boost: As the team's leading returner in receptions, sophomore Ashlyn Parker figured to flourish in the new offense. Instead, the honorable mention all-conference selection slipped to fourth on the depth chart. With few guarantees on offense, the Panthers need a stronger performance from Parker this summer to solidify the receiving corps.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at South Carolina
Sept. 8 Ohio
Sept. 15 McNeese State
Sept. 22 Troy
Sept. 29 at Central Florida
Oct. 6 North Texas
Oct. 13 at Arkansas State
Oct. 20 Florida Atlantic
Nov. 3 at Tennessee
Nov. 10 at Middle Tennessee
Nov. 17 at Florida International
Nov. 24 Louisiana-Monroe



2006 overall record:
6-6
2006 conference record:
3-4

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
RB Tyrell Fenroy, WR Derrick Smith, T Jesse Newman, WR Jason Chery, DE Rodney Hardeway, FS Lamar Morgan, LB Brent Burkhalter, PK Drew Edmiston
Key losses
QB Jerry Babb, T Brandon Cox, CB Michael Adams, SS Johnny Felders, DE Tony Hills, DT Joe Bradley, LB Wes Simon
Top newcomer: OG Jaron Odom Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Tyrell Fenroy* (1,197 yds)
Passing: Jerry Babb (1,355 yds)
Receiving: Derrick Smith* (551 yds)
Tackles: Brent Burkhalter* (61)
Sacks: Rodney Hardeway* (5)
Interceptions: Gerren Blount* (2)

Spring answers: 1. Desormeaux wins job: After playing behind Jerry Babb last season, versatile junior Michael Desormeaux claimed the top quarterback job this spring. Desormeaux completed 7 of 11 passes for 92 yards in the spring game, engineering a textbook two-minute drill at the end of the first half. The 6-foot-1 Desormeaux split time between quarterback and slot back last season, racking up 180 rushing yards.
2. Ward sizzles: Senior cornerback Kyle Ward made a strong impression throughout the spring, making several interceptions in practice drills. After losing standout corner Michael Adams, Louisiana-Lafayette needs a fail-safe cover man and might have found one in the warp-speed Ward, who ranked sixth on the team with 42 tackles last season.
3. Defense steps up: Despite lingering concerns up front, the Ragin' Cajuns defense turned in a solid spring, particularly in the second scrimmage. The defense allowed only two field goals in a 79-play scrimmage and held ballcarriers to 84 rushing yards. "It was awesome to watch what the defensive line was doing with their stunts," linebacker Brent Burkhalter told The Daily Advertiser. "We were communicating well and making the offense guess at what we were doing. I haven't seen our defense play that well in a long time."

Fall questions: 1. Fill in gaps up front: Louisiana-Lafayette's defensive line must show continued progress this summer as it tries to replace end Tony Hills, tackle Joe Bradley and several others. Senior Greg Hathorn, a converted linebacker, is projected to take over for Hills opposite Rodney Hardeway. Sophomore tackle LaQuincy Williams will have an enhanced role after recording 2.5 sacks last season.
2. Monitor Desormeaux's passing: Everyone knows what Michael Desormeaux can do with his feet, but opposing defenses will flood the box if the junior doesn't prove himself as a passer. He has plenty of help with wide receivers Jason Chery, Phillip Nevels, Derrick Smith and Marlin Miller, but they need to form chemistry this summer. Desormeaux completed only 2 of 9 passes last season.
3. Solidify right side of line: The Ragin' Cajuns' offensive line should be a strength if it can shore up the right side. Converted center Brad Bryant is the leading candidate to replace first-team all-conference tackle Brandon Cox. Right guard will also feature plenty of competition. Veteran reserve Zach Leger is the front-runner to start, but Junior Ramos also will be in the mix.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
2007 Schedule
Aug. 30 Tulsa
Sept. 8 at Clemson
Sept. 15 at Texas A&M
Sept. 29 at Troy
Oct. 6 Arkansas State
Oct. 13 at North Texas
Oct. 20 Florida International
Oct. 27 at Florida Atlantic
Nov. 3 Middle Tennessee
Nov. 10 Grambling State
Nov. 17 at Alabama
Nov. 24 at Louisiana-Lafayette


2006 overall record:
4-8
2006 conference record:
3-4

Returning starters
Offense: 11, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
RB Calvin Dawson, WR LaGregory Sapp, T Kyle Cunningham, C Adam Hill, TE Zeek Zacharie, S Josh Thompson, CB Greg James, PK Cole Wilson Key losses
RB Erroll Hogan, S/P Kevin Payne, CB Chaz Williams, DE Christiaan Cambridge, LB Josh Alexander
Top newcomer: OG Cade Burks Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Calvin Dawson* (1,210 yds)
Passing: Kinsmon Lancaster* (1,789 yds)
Receiving: LaGregory Sapp* (796 yds)
Tackles: Kevin Payne (98)
Sacks: Aaron Morgan* (4)
Interceptions: Josh Thompson* (6)

Spring answers: 1. Insurance behind Dawson: Star running back Calvin Dawson played sparingly this spring as a precaution, which allowed his young backups to get plenty of work. Redshirt freshman Tay Ogletree rushed for 90 yards in the spring game, including an 82-yard scoring dash. Ogletree's classmate Frank Goodin also performed well, rushing for 77 yards and two touchdowns. "Tay and Frank complement each other," coach Charlie Weatherbie said, "Frank with his quickness and slashing capabilities and Tay as a hit and bounce, then outrun the defense."
2. Lewis walking tall: Quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster doesn't have to worry about his starting job, but 5-10 walk-on Al Lewis turned heads this spring. Lewis completed 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, adding 67 rushing yards on only four carries. Weatherbie is exploring how to use Lewis this fall, possibly putting him at wide receiver and punt returner. "We knew he would have a chance to make this football team," Weatherbie told The News-Star. "We've scholarshipped walk-ons before, and this is an opportunity for [Lewis] to earn that."
3. Defensive line solid: Despite the loss of top pass rusher Christiaan Cambridge, the Warhawks defensive front is looking strong for the season. The line returns five players with starting experience, including versatile end Jameson Jordan. Though Louisiana-Monroe must replace Cambridge at the other end spot, its run stopping should be improved. "We are the anchor for the whole defense," defensive tackle Kendall Mouton said. "We have more experience and everyone knows their assignments this season."

Fall questions: 1. Linebacker limbo: Linebacker might be Louisiana-Monroe's primary area of concern entering camp following the loss of Josh Alexander, who ranked second on the team in both tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (3) last year. Cardia Jackson should fill one starting spot after an encouraging freshman season, while Jeremy Moll and Josh Thomas will compete on the outside. Junior Chance Payne is also in the mix after serving as Louisiana-Monroe's backup quarterback last season. "This is a new group and everyone is learning assignments," Moll said. "We have to pay attention to detail. Nothing is locked down for the fall."
2. Shore up punting: Louisiana-Monroe got fortunate last year, when safety Kevin Payne stepped in and took over the punting duties just before the season. The Warhawks don't want another last-minute solution and hope freshman Scott Love can bring continuity to the position. They also need a long snapper following the graduation of Cody Bauman. Cecil Pollock and Patrick Avinger will compete this summer.
3. O-line limping: The Warhawks lost three starting offensive linemen to injuries before or during spring practice, raising concerns about a veteran group. Tackle Larry Shappley sat out of contact drills after tearing his ACL last season, and freshman Doug Shroud injured his right knee March 27. The line figures to be the strength of Louisiana-Monroe's offense, but the health concerns must be put to rest in camp.

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Florida Atlantic
Sept. 6 at Louisville
Sept. 15 at LSU
Sept. 20 Western Kentucky
Sept. 29 Florida International
Oct. 6 Virginia
Oct. 13 at Memphis
Oct. 20 Arkansas State
Oct. 27 at North Texas
Nov. 3 at Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 10 Louisiana-Lafayette
Nov 20 at Troy


2006 overall record:
7-6
2006 conference record:
6-1

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
RB DeMarco McNair, WR Jonathan Grigsby, RB/WR Desmond Gee, LT Franklin Dunbar, FS Damon Nickson, DE Erik Walden, DE Tavares Jones, DT Trevor Jenkins
Key losses
QB Clint Marks, RB Eugene Gross, T Germayle Franklin, LB J.K. Sabb, LB Justin Rainey, P/PK Colby Smith
Top newcomer: DE Sa'Coby Carter Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Eugene Gross (882 yds)
Passing: Clint Marks (1,917 yds)
Receiving: Bobby Williams* (378 yds)
Tackles: J.K. Sabb (69)
Sacks: Erik Walden* (11.5)
Interceptions: Damon Nickson* (5)

Spring answers: 1. Craddock claims job: Middle Tennessee's most pressing question was answered this spring as junior Joe Craddock won the starting quarterback job. Craddock completed 8 of 11 passes for 113 yards in the spring game. "Joe still has to compete and earn the position," coach Rick Stockstill told The Daily News Journal, "but I just think he's really got to have a bad summer or just fall flat on his face and not compete in August for him not to be our starter." The only uncertainty is who will back up Craddock. Three players are in contention, including Duke transfer Gene Delle Donne.
2. Ready to run: Not only did the Blue Raiders find a replacement for Clint Marks, but they also found a possible successor for running back Eugene Gross. Rising sophomore Phillip Tanner sparkled in the spring game, rushing for 104 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Tanner switched over to running back after playing safety last season. He likely will share carries this fall with longtime reserve DeMarco McNair and sophomore Desmond Gee. "I was very impressed with the way Phillip [Tanner] ran the ball," Stockstill said. "He has really worked on protecting the football."
3. Catching on: They still have a long way to go, but Middle Tennessee's wide receivers stepped up their play this spring. Junior Bobby Williams had four receptions for 85 yards in the spring game and earned the team's award for most improved strength training. Sophomore Patrick Honeycutt returns from injury this summer, and the Blue Raiders are hoping for big things out of Michael Cannon, Jonathan Grigsby and others. "I was pleased with the way we caught the ball," Stockstill said.

Fall questions: 1. Linebacker health: Stockstill will keep a close eye on his linebackers this summer after senior Chance Dunleavy and junior college transfer Ivon Hickmon missed spring practice with injuries. Hickmon won't be back until the middle of the summer because of a knee injury, and Dunleavy reinjured the knee that sidelined him last season. After losing all three starters from last year's team, including all-conference selections J.K. Sabb and Justin Rainey, the Blue Raiders need a full complement of linebackers in camp.
2. Questions in kicking game: The loss of do-it-all specialist Colby Smith creates mass competition among Middle Tennessee's kickers. Junior Matt King had a 31-yard field goal and two kickoff touchbacks in the spring game, winning the team's most dependable specialist award. Richard Billings, a transfer from Alabama State, is the front-runner at punter after averaging 44.5 yards per boot in the spring game. Marshall transfer David DeFatta, who missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt in the game, will compete at both positions.
3. Polite's status: The status of Roy Polite, a projected starter at cornerback, will weigh heavily on a strong Middle Tennessee secondary. Stockstill suspended Polite in February for a series of team rules violations. The senior missed spring practice, and his status is unclear entering the summer. If Polite does not return, converted running back Alex Suber will be the favorite to start at right cornerback opposite Bradley Robinson.

North Texas Mean Green
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Oklahoma
Sept. 8 at SMU
Sept. 22 Florida Atlantic
Sept. 29 at Arkansas
Oct. 6 at Louisiana-Lafayette
Oct. 13 Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 20 at Troy
Oct. 27 Middle Tennessee State
Nov. 10 Navy
Nov. 15 at Arkansas State
Nov. 24 Western Kentucky
Dec. 1 at Florida International


2006 overall record:
3-9
2006 conference record:
2-5

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 10, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
RB Jamario Thomas, WR Brandon Jackson, G Adam Venegas, DE Jeremiah Chapman, LB Maurice Holman, FS Aaron Weathers, LB Germaine Dawson, P Truman Spencer
Key losses
WR Johnny Quinn, G Dylan Lineberry, LT Joel Foster, DT Sky Pruitt, PK Denis Hopovac
Top newcomer: DE Jordan Scoggins Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jamario Thomas* (668 yds)
Passing: Woody Wilson* (528 yds)
Receiving: Johnny Quinn (633 yds)
Tackles: Aaron Weathers* (78)
Sacks: Jeremiah Chapman* (4.5)
Interceptions: Six players have one interception

Spring answers: 1. Meager takes the lead: North Texas' convoluted quarterback picture began to clear up a bit at the end of spring practice. Junior quarterback Daniel Meager threw for 233 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, outshining Nathan Tune, Matt Phillips and Woody Wilson. Meager started five straight games last season before being benched. Though the starting job remains open, Meager could be closing to claiming it. "It's very obvious that Daniel has had the most consistent spring," coach Todd Dodge told the Denton Record-Chronicle. "The other three had some times when they have really shown, but [the competition] will definitely go into the fall."
2. Quite a catch: Walk-on Casey Fitzgerald made a strong case to join the wide receiver rotation this spring. Fitzgerald had four receptions for 166 yards in the spring game, hauling in touchdowns of 85 and 72 yards. His performance could earn him a scholarship, not to mention increased playing time this fall. "He has been very consistent," Dodge told the Record-Chronicle. "He made plays on Day 1 and plays on Day 15."
3. Line steps up: What looked like a major concern for North Texas at the start of the spring blossomed as practice progressed. The Mean Green offensive line stepped up in the spring game, allowing only one sack. Chad Rose, the only lineman with starting experience, moved from center to guard, but newcomers like Kelvin Drake and Esteban Santiago stepped up. Santiago moved from defensive tackle to guard during spring ball. "I am really happy with their toughness," Dodge told the Record-Chronicle. "It showed that they are a lot more experienced than they were at the beginning of spring just 15 practices ago."

Fall questions: 1. Cornerback production: North Texas is solid at safety, boasting two-time leading tackler Aaron Weathers, but the secondary could hinge on the cornerback play this fall. Returning starters Antoine Bush and Dominique Green will compete with Desmon Chatman this summer. Baylor transfer Latif Nurudeen had a superb spring and will challenge for a starting spot. Dodge also hinted that he might try to add a junior-college cornerback.
2. Receiver rotation: Wide receiver remains the most intriguing position entering camp, as North Texas tries to replace superstar Johnny Quinn. Several players stepped up in spring practice, including Fitzgerald, and six highly touted freshmen will join the mix this fall. Quinn caught 40 more passes than any other Mean Green receiver last year.
3. Running man: Jamario Thomas turned in a strong spring, the result of improved conditioning and no injuries. But after gaining only one yard in the spring game, the senior running back needs to see continued progress this summer.

Troy Trojans
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Arkansas
Sept. 8 at Florida
Sept. 14 Oklahoma State
Sept. 22 at Louisiana Lafayette
Sept. 29 Louisiana Monroe
Oct.6 at Florida International
Oct. 20 North Texas
Oct. 27 at Arkansas State
Nov. 3 at Georgia
Nov. 10 at Western Kentucky
Nov. 20 Middle Tennessee
Dec. 1 Florida Atlantic


2006 overall record:
8-5
2006 conference record:
6-1

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Omar Haugabook, WR Gary Banks, RB Kenny Cattouse, LB Boris Lee, CB Leodis McKelvin, DE Kenny Mainor, CB Elbert Mack
Key losses
WR Toris Rutledge, C Zach Yenser, RT Kirbie Bodiford, DT Franklin Lloyd, SS Brannon Condren, P Jason Wright
Top newcomer: OT Jeremiah Wright Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kenny Cattous* (810 yds)
Passing: Omar Haugabook* (2,401 yds)
Receiving: Gary Banks* (603 yds)
Tackles: Brannon Condren (98)
Sacks: Kenny Mainor* (6.5)
Interceptions: Boris Lee* (3)

Spring answers: 1. Will power: Troy entered the spring with concerns at weakside linebacker, but received good production from Bear Woods and Trinidy Thomas. Woods made a team-high 11 tackles (eight solo) in the spring game, and Thomas added six solo stops. "Both those guys have been here and can help us," Trojans coach Larry Blakeney told The Troy Messenger. "Trinidy needs more body mass and Bear needs to keep working on his speed."
2. Slot machine: The Trojans' slot receivers also stepped up their pay in the spring game. Sophomore Randy Underwood, a 6-foot-6 converted defensive end, had four receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown. Cornelius Williams chipped in with five catches for 53 yards. "I'm still learning," Underwood told The Troy Messenger. "My key for running routes is staying low."
3. Lee continues to blossom: After leading the team in interceptions (3) and ranking third in tackles (62), Boris Lee looks ready to build on a strong freshman season. Lee led the first-team defense with seven tackles in the spring game, affirming his place as the leader of the linebackers.

Fall questions: 1. Solidify offensive line: The Trojans pack plenty of punch in their backfield with quarterback Omar Haugabook and running back Kenny Cattouse, but they won't produce without a solid line. Troy must replace standout linemen Zach Yenser and Kirbie Bodiford. Guard Chris Jamison is the only returning starter on the line, and several positions will be reevaluated this summer.
2. Backup battle continues: The competition to play behind Omar Haugabook will resume in camp after six quarterbacks participated in the spring scrimmage. Tanner Jones, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship after last season, enters camp as the front-runner. Jonathan Chandler also will contend for the job after throwing two touchdowns in the spring game.
3. Find a punter: Troy's punting competition continued through spring practice and should extend well into preseason camp. Adrian Vera averaged 36 yards on three punts in the spring game, but he did have a punt blocked. Walk-on Josh Lashley had one punt for 45 yards in the game. The Trojans also must find replacements at long snapper and holder this summer.

Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.